The Rise and Fall of Smuggling

What happened to smuggling in the industrial period?
The number of people involved in the criminal activity of smuggling rose dramatically during the industrial period.
Why did smuggling increase in the industrial period?
There were 4 main reasons why there was a rise in smuggling:
  • In the 17th century, the government introduced import duties (taxes) on a range of goods, like tea. This made them more expensive for people to buy.
  • Smugglers brought goods into the country in secret, via the largely unguarded coastline. They could sell their goods more cheaply than traders who had to pay import duties, so they found a ready market and made a bigger profit.
  • In the 18th century more goods - including cloth, wine and spirits - were taxed more heavily, and smuggling activity increased.
  • Many people wanted to buy cheaper goods and viewed smuggling as a social crime, so they provided smugglers with a large and profitable market.
Why did smuggling become a more important crime?
There were 3 key different reactions to smuggling:
  • At a time when there was no income tax and duties were the main source of government income, the authorities took smuggling very seriously.
  • Ordinary people, though, usually turned a blind eye to smuggling. They were happy to pay lower prices for goods and disliked the expensive duties imposed by the government.
  • People who lived near the large smuggling gangs, such as the Hawkhurst Gang in southeast England, were concerned about their lawlessness and violence.
Who became smugglers in the industrial age?
There are 5 key facts to note about people whom became involved in smuggling:
  • Smuggling was profitable, and encouraged people from all walks of life into crime.
  • In 1748, 103 people were officially 'wanted' for smuggling. Over 70% of them were labourers; fewer than 10% were small landowners; and the rest were tradesmen such as butchers and carpenters.
  • Even wealthy people took part in smuggling, including government ministers!
  • Some smugglers joined gangs, which could be as large as 50 to 100 men.
  • They were well armed and would often use violence, so they had little fear of customs officers or the army.
Why did people become smugglers in the industrial period?
There were 5 main reasons why people got involved with smuggling:
  • Smuggling gangs offered good pay. It was attractive to people because of the profits they could make.
  • For farm labourers, smuggling was a quicker (and more exciting) way to make money than farming. A smuggler could earn 6 or 7 times a farmer's daily wage in a single night.
  • Anyone who helped smugglers carry goods from ship to shore could expect to earn nearly twice a labourer's daily wage.
  • The cloth, fishing and iron-making industries were similarly affected.
  • Some wealthy people became 'venturers' and financed the ships that sailed to other countries to collect goods to smuggle.
Why did smuggling decline?
Smuggling began to decline when it became less profitable because import duties were reduced. Non-smuggled goods were less expensive, so the demand for smuggled goods fell and smugglers made less profit.
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